tv Lectures in History President Johnson the Vietnam War in 1968 CSPAN August 23, 2018 8:02pm-9:23pm EDT
appeals. he had a special obligation to make his views on the topic clear given the president litmus test. that he would only appoint judges who would overturn roe. on that obligation, judge cavanaugh fails spectacularly. i look forward to watching judd cavanaugh's confirmation hearing and after conducting an objective review of his nomination, i am confident that judge cavanaugh will be an excellent addition for our nation's highest court. >> watch day one of the senate confirmation hearings for supreme court nominee right cavanaugh. live, tuesday, september 4 on c- span three. watch anytime on c-span.org or listen on the free c-span radio app. arizona state university professor kyle longley teaches a class on president lyndon johnson and the vietnam war in 1968 we take it to his class next where he discusses lbj's reaction to the tet offensive in january. and the reasons behind the president's decision in march
to not seek reelection. this class is from our weekly lectures in history series. well, welcome to class. the history of the vietnam war. very happy for everyone to be here tonight. we're going to be discussing 1968. i love the choice -- i put up some music lyrics by the animals. a great group, and a song called, we got to get out of this place. it's a song from 1965, but it became sort of the anthem for the vietnam soldiers. and they would sing it time and time again and play it time and time again because that was their goal. we've got to get out of this place. today we're going to talk about in terms of the johnson administration, and vietnam during 1968. and as you remember from the book that you've read, johnson's going to characterize 1968 as the year of continuous nightmare. that's important to keep in mind as we go forward. it's going to be one thing after another after another. but always central to the point is going to be vietnam. vietnam is going to be the
thing that is the sort of overarcing issue that's going to cause riots in the streets. of course, there's going to be civil rights issues. there's going to be supreme court debates. there's going to be riots and other things that are important but vietnam is where it all comes back to. and it's what's sort of helped pull the country apart. so this comes again as the book that you've read. my new book called "lbj's 1968 power/politics and the year of upheaval." this picture alone represents, i think, to a large degree, what we see in the year. and i wish we would have done a little better job with this because at the bottom is a tape recorder. and what president johnson is doing in this picture is listening to his son-in-law chuck robb tell him about what is going on in vietnam. his son-in-law is a lieutenant in the marine corps leading a group of men. and he's talking about some of the men that he's lost.
so you can see from the devastation this is causing the president. but i think there's another interesting element to the picture itself. and that is in the background is john kennedy. the bust of john kennedy. i think there's a certain irony there. the man that always was seen as sort of overlooking lbj and also who, as we've done in our studies and learned, was a precursor and really left johnson very little room to operate as a result of his involvement in vietnam. but let's start with the lead-in. we're going to talk about 1968 but to a large degree the lead- in is late 1967. and here's a quote from general westmoreland, the commander in chief of u.s. forces in vietnam. and i love this one because he goes to the national press club. he's brought back to the country to try to drum up support for the war. because they're trying to do a
major public relations campaign to win support for the war. and i love this quote that he gives to the press. i am absolutely certain whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning. today he is certainly losing. we are making progress. we know you want an honorable and early transition to the fourth and last phase. and so do your sons and so do i. it lies within our grasp that enemies' hopes are bankrupt. that should tell you sort of the message the president as well as his generals are trying to present to the american public. they are trying to, again, shore up support, build the support for the president and then carry this to the american people to win support for them to continue to wage the war. now johnson has been toying with some ideas like the san antonio formula which had been given in august of 1967 where
he discussed that if the north vietnamese would go through a certain number of conditions, that we would end the bombing and start negotiations. now the conditions were so poison-pilled that there was no way that was going to happen. but he'd been toying with that idea for a number of years. but in august of '67 with the san antonio formula, it became more prominent. this picture is very good. it's westmoreland just facing off with johnson. pictures are always good. i want you to see what you can see but it's hard to see on the board. but does anybody -- can you tell what's in the background? can you see that? isn't that a certain irony there? think about that. the american revolutionaries against the powerful, most
powerful nation on earth fighting for their independence. i'd incorporate that into the book in one of the sayings where i talk about in the background is this discussion while they're talking about vietnam, there's this discussion of, in this picture of yorktown. pretty ironic, is it not? one of the questions -- i love that i found this last night. i hadn't really come across this when i was putting this powerpoint together. but it was a question at the national press club. the press could submit questions to general westmoreland. and look at this: will the speaker please answer this question. none of the phases you outline mention surrender by the north vietnam. what is the significance of that omission? think about that. what is the significance of the omission?
no surrender by the north vietnamese. let's carry that forward now. but i love this little question that was put forth. why not discuss surrender. think about that as we go forward. well, right before 1967 comes to an end, the prime minister of australia goes swimming on the coast of australia. and again, keep in mind december is their summer. so he's off swimming and suddenly he disappears. and ultimately his -- harold holt is his name. his body will never be recovered. so they hold a funeral for the australian prime minister who had been a strong supporter of the johnson administration in vietnam. so here's what the president does. he calls up, you read about this in the introduction. calls up his personal pilot and says get the plane ready. we're going to a funeral. of course, the plane is under repair and so there isn't his favorite plane to take which he
complains about. but ultimately what he's got to do is in december of 1967 he's going to go around the world. and in that process, the main issue is going to still remain vietnam. so he goes to australia. he meets with the president of south korea for the obvious reasons. south koreans have 40,000, 50,000 troops in south vietnam. he wants to make sure they stay there. then he meets with the australians to make sure they commit and remain committed to their struggle in south vietnam. and finally he meets with the south vietnamese leaders, including the president tu. each time he's trying to cajole, trying to work deals and keep the alliance together because deep down, i really believe johnson thinks victory. he's listening. he thinks victory is possible. he thinks it is around the corner. there's light at the end of the tunnel. and i love what he tells the officers and the enlisted men
when he's at cameron bay. he goes to thailand, middle of the night. gets up early the next morning and flies into cameron bay. this is not something they would have announced for the obvious reasons. you really don't want a vietcong at the end of the run way knowing the president and air force one is about to land. typically not something you'd want. so they try not to broadcast it, but they do start pulling troops out of the jungles so they can give them medals. i'm sure the troops were not that upset to get a few days in cam ranh bay. but i like what he says because i think this is -- pay attention to this. this is december 1967. let's talk about four months later, march 31st, 1968, and see the changes. he says, quote, the americans are -- he says to the officers, an enemy was hoping to outlast the americans and break their will. but, quote, we're not going to
yield and shimmy. then he told the large group of assembled troops. here he is greeting many of them. again, it's a great opportunity to go meet the president, listen to the president and also breaks up the doldrums of the day. he told the troops, america had, quote, come from the valleys and the depths of despondency to the heights and cliffs where we know now that the enemy can never win, end quote. what does that say to you? the enemy can never win. out of south vietnam, but it sounds like -- but he's talking about victory. but is it? they can never win but that implies, who can win? right. us and our allies. but primarily the u.s. and the
victory is what? this is a fundamental question still in 1967. what is victory? an independent vietnam. i'm not sure democracy was necessary. it's how you're defining that. holding elections is one thing. what we might characterize as a true democracy might be a very different thing. but again, implicit in this is we're not going to shimmy, we're not going to run. and they can never win. it's implicit in that, we can win and we will win. maybe i'm misreading that, but that's what it looks like to me. he would even go so far as first to fly to pakistan after leaving cam ranh bay. flies to pakistan. visits for a little while. then flies to the vatican. why would he fly to the vatican, would you believe?
yes, jose. >> very catholic. >> yes. especially president tu. so this is the issue. how do you deal with the south vietnamese and get them more involved in the process? so you go to the pope to try to push the catholics. why didn't he do this before 1963? but i love this quote and it really sticks out. i'll digress in just a second. lbj talked about how people in texas like their sticker on their foreheads. made in texas by texans. president adds, i would like a slogan in saigon that says peace in south vietnam made by the vietnamese, end quote. think what he's thinking there. think of that mind-set. here's a funny story i just found out about this visit.
this tells you a lot about johnson. when he gets to the vatican, they have an exchange gifts. the pope brings out this beautiful 14th century painting. invaluable. probably worth millions of dollars. very classic 14th century painting. johnson pulls out a bust of himself and exchanges it. think about that. think about what that says about president johnson. again, of himself, not of george washington. not of jefferson. not of john kennedy who actually would have made more sense. the catholicism tie there. but himself. chill on that one for a second. >> in 1968, he finally makes it around the world. they land back and traveled, as you saw in the book, tens of thousands of miles in a very short period of time. covered a lot of distance and,
again, the fundamental issue, he remains in vietnam. the same is going to happen when the state of the union address comes around in the third week of january of 1968. and how you can tell this is, it's the very first issue johnson raises. and many will say that's the worst thing that he could possibly have done. open with vietnam. it is a divisive issue. on one side you have the hawks that are saying, well, he's not doing enough. on the other side of the peace candidates who are saying he's doing too much, it's time to get out and declare peace. and he's trying to walk that line. we've been talking about this since that first book we read on this very issue. the mcmaster book, dereliction of duty. the graduated response, the middle of the road response. so can you please anybody when you're riding down the middle of the road? usually what's going to happen to you?
you're going to get run over. in this case, he's trying to reach out and say, all right, we're in this for the long haul which he needs to send that to our allies as well as the south vietnamese government. he also wants to send a message to the north vietnamese. but here he says, quote, and this ties back to what he said at cam ranh bay. the opponent, quote, continues to hope that the american's will to persevere can be broken. well, he is wrong. america will persevere. our patience and our perseverance will match our power. aggression will never prevail, end quote. you could have heard that in 1965, could you not? remember the johns hopkins speech we talked about? dereliction of duty? we've read a number of books that outline strategies in relation to vietnam. how we got there. how we continue there. but you take this, you tie it to what happened and what he said in cam ranh bay and you have very much the same thing.
is there anything in this that says we're ready to sue for peace, we're going to back down and we're going to try to get out? nothing. nothing implied there. now he has some thoughts behind the scenes which we know was always the case when he's discussing getting in the war. he always has doubts. but is he saying this to the american people? but again, i go back to the fundamental idea. he had a chance to set a different tone. chose not to. he had a chance to not put vietnam up front. he chose not to. vietnam is the obsession. well, it only gets more so. just a few days after he gives the state of the union address, 40,000 north vietnamese troops surround u.s. forces at the base, not too far away from the dmz. on january 24th, 1968 they
launch a major offensive. what's the first thing that you think went into the head of johnson and his generals? this is going to be the north vietnamese efforts to break the united states just like they broke the french. here he is in the basement and i talk about this in the way he'd wander the halls at night with his flashlight going down to the basement where he'd go check on his boys. the marines. the 6,000 marines or so at khe sanh. fearful this is going to be our waterloo. they went so far as to draw a diorama of the fortifications and you'd look in the back are maps and they'd give reports to the president. a lot of times he's in his pajamas with maybe a jacket
over or something like that. but he's wandering the halls. basically, what does that tell you about him? what would you characterize the president as being? >> obsessed? >> that's the best word. you nailed it, jose. obsessed. he is obsessed. but here's the problem. that was just part of the plan. the major plan is tet. which had been planned for years in advance by the north vietnamese, believing that by launching a major offensive in the south during the tet holiday that the south vietnamese themselves would rise up to overthrow the american-supported government. and nothing symbolized this. westmoreland just told us victory is near. at least we're doing a heck of
a lot better than before. we have the president. is he backing off anything that aggression will not prevail? absolutely not. therefore, the american people are going, all right, it must be going fairly well. the enemy must be on the money. then suddenly, they are hitting every major target in south vietnam, including the u.s. embassy which people are like, that's the most fortified american emplacement in all of vietnam. and suddenly you have snipers penetrating the outer perimeter. and only -- and the question becomes, and i made this point in the book, walter cronkite's response is what? eric? >> that he thought we were winning this war and -- >> you remember the quote? what the hell is going on? i thought we were winning. that's pretty powerful, is it
not? and that's by a guy who, to this point, had been very hawkish on the war. very supportive of the war to a large degree. and again, here's the attacks in saigon, to your right. and then look at all the attacks. almost every major provincial capital was hit. but here's the question. a fundamental one. johnson comes out and so does westmoreland. we knew this was coming, even though a lot of people underneath him are like, no. even if we had their plans, we wouldn't have believed them. yes, there were some that anticipated some kind of offensive, but nobody anticipated it on this scale. what's going to happen is this offensive is going to be a major tactical defeat for the vietcong, but a strategic defeat for the united states.
tactical victory, strategic defeat. things happen. and nothing stands out probably in this way any more than what happened when the police commissioner of saigon takes a suspected vietcong and executes him in front of the cameras. this execution leads a lot of americans to question. and this is one that's important because i like to talk in the book about the people closest to johnson. the ones that are having the most influence. and harry mcpherson, a person described as the president's conscience emphasized the execution. not only demonstrated the inhumanity of an ally but confirmation of an impression that we'd been building for years. we were sunk in a war between alien peoples with whom we shared few human values, end quote. he goes on to add, by raising
his revolver on every channel, turned public doubt into heart- sick rage and carrying us along with him. pretty powerful. and this is the guy, the one of president johnson's closest advisers. he's starting to question, and i bring this up. and mcpherson would say he usually accepted the reports but after tet he stressed, i put aside the confidential cables. i was more persuaded by the tube and by the newspapers. i was fed up with the optimism that seemed to flow without stopping from saigon. johnson had always had skepticism, but this is mcpherson who is 27 or 28 at the time. he would tear into the
president. he was one of the few people that could get away with it. he'd just rip into the president. and as some describe him, he was the president's conscience. but the president, this is the question, what do we do now? yeah, we're kicking the crud out of, especially the vietcong. everywhere they are fighting much better than what is anticipated. the south vietnamese people are not rising up in revolts like the north vietnamese had hoped that they would. so this is a problem. so here becomes the debate. the military, as you saw this play out, in the behind the scenes, try to utilize tet to justify asking for another 206,000 troops. and from february to march of 1968, this is going to be a bureaucratic battle of epic proportions. where inside the pentagon and inside the white house, the
debates are going to rage. what do we do? will 206,000 make a difference? if so, what kind of difference? and the president is sitting there going, every time you come to me and ask for more troops, i've given them to you. now explain to me why 206,000 are going to make more of a difference. and i love -- here he is facing off with general wheeler. the chairman of the joint chiefs to the left. but i think this picture to the right sort of sums it up probably better than anything. what do you see there? derek? >> the president and robert mcnamara look very anguished and they look like they're just in devastation. >> this is from february 8th, 1968. think about that. that picture, i think, speaks
very loudly. mcnamara is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. he's about to be replaced by clark clifford. transition has already started. didn't you find it surprising at one point in one of the meetings, mcnamara just starts crying when they start discussing this. well, if we'd only do more bombing and he just breaks down. he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. he's moving out of the white house to be president of the world bank. but i think this sort of sums it up quite well. johnson's tired, exhausted. because here's the problem you got to answer. and they ask him, he asks the joint chiefs, and he asks wheeler in particular, if i give you 206,000 more, can you guarantee me a much better situation? their answer was what?
do you remember? did they guarantee victory? what did they guarantee? do you remember? they guaranteed that we'd be able to hold on to a few more provinces for a little longer, and if we didn't send these troops over, those provinces, and we just as well walk away from them. these were northern provinces. is that what the president wants to hear with 206,000? where is he going to get these people? you'll have to call up your reserves and the national guard. you're also going to have to increase your draft. why does the president not want to do that? >> it would include a lot of the people who had been prominent, like the sons who were prominent backers of the war who --
>> we've talked about this time and time again, especially last week or the last time we talked about the book "fortunate son." yeah, he went forward but the majority of people avoided service, especially those who were of affluent backgrounds. they used the guard and reserves as places to hide. but when you start calling them up, johnson's great fear is, boy, all those hawks that have been supporting me, once their kids are actively involved, are they going to continue to support me? so he hesitated. 206,000 more. that would have given us about 700,000 -- over 700,000 troops in vietnam. had 300,000 worked? had 500,000 worked? what was the guarantee 700,000 would work? that's the fundamental question the president keeps asking time and time and time again. and the chairman and westmoreland cannot give him an answer that makes him feel
comfortable. you can't guarantee me anything other than we can hold on to a few more provinces? you can't guarantee me any form of victory and this is going to dramatically change things? and their answer is, no. we can't guarantee you victory for sure. they got chewed up during the tet offensive. we're going to have to take time to rebuild them. and here's a problem, too. there are a number of times during tet when u.s. casualties far surpassed those. they got mauled. most of them had to retreat into cambodia to recover. now they'll come back out not long after this, but the question is can you guarantee me a different outcome? what difference outcome can you guarantee me with 206,000? that's a lot of people. and it was the first time, and
we're going to see this, johnson says no. and doesn't give the military what they request. but i think there's another factor to this. and i'm going to use this because someone will say the press lost the war. did the press make a difference? yes. their coverage of tet was not particularly efficient at times because they were working on a daily basis and seeing things. and cronkite, after hearing about the tet offensive says i'm going to go to vietnam and study it myself. he goes over and the first thing he does is almost gets in a fight with westmoreland. everywhere cronkite goes, no one seems to be that optimistic. only at headquarters. so he comes back and he makes this famous broadcast. i want you, after class tonight, to go watch that. there's two things i like from cronkite i want you to look at
after class today. one is this. his speech to the american people. the second is his interview with president johnson just a few weeks before johnson dies in 1973. but here's what he asked. and what he finds after coming back from vietnam where he'd been. he'd been there in 1965 and found it a very different place. when he gets there in '68, it's changed, and he further questions things. he said, quote, who won and who lost in the great tet offensive? i'm not sure. he added, we've been too often disappointed in the optimism of american leaders. to have faith in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. and this is the most trusted american journalist of his time. he doesn't look like a radical, you know, lefty. this is a gray-haired guy that had been in world war ii and covered the u.s. troops in korea. never accused really of being a peacenick. but he says to himself, quote,
for it seems now more than ever, vietnam is to end in a standoff, end quote. he grows more somber and stressed, for every means we have to escalate the enemy can match us. to say that we are mired in a stalemate seems the only realistic yet unsatisfactory conclusion, end quote. and he concludes, but it is ever-increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate. listen to this. not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and they did the best they could, end quote. again, this is not a radical anti-war statement. he's actually saying, we are honorable. we lived up to their pledge of
defending democracy. and what is johnson's response once he hears cronkite has made this statement? yes, yes. i'm sorry, i said derek when i wanted luke. i have those moments. >> if we have lost cronkite, we've lost the country. >> if we've lost cronkite, we've lost the country. to a degree, things are going to cascade after that to reinforce that. and none more than the picture to your left of the peace candidate who declared in december of 1967, eugene mccarthy, senator from minnesota who declares against johnson and runs in the new hampshire primary. and on the day of the new hampshire primary, johnson was not even on the ballot. the primary systems in the 1968 election really didn't matter. only a few really contested --
most of the delegates were selected as basically superdelegates. they were just chosen by the party of that local state. contesting for these delegates was fairly limited. so johnson didn't even put his name on the ballot in new hampshire, but he did predict this. everybody was saying he was going to win by 25, 30 points. no, anybody that's mad at their husband, mad at the postmaster, mad at the dog is going to vote against me just because they're angry. and he was right. mccarthy came within seven points of knocking johnson off in new hampshire. now later they did studies saying that johnson -- that the people that voted against johnson and voted sometimes for mccarthy were mad that johnson wasn't doing enough to win the war. which contradicted the narrative that was being portrayed.
little bit. my wife one day, i was doing a biography of senator albert gore. he was in the senate foreign relations committee in 1968. and i was working on my biography of him. and i wanted to do some oral histories. so i contacted senator mccarthy. and at the time he was 89 or 90. so i reached out and i said i'd love to talk to you. one day my wife gets a phone call. and it's -- the person on the other end she goes, hello? and they are very slow to respond. and she starts talking to him like they're a telemarketer. and the person at the other end finally got her to stop for a little bit and he goes, well, your husband called me. my name is eugene mccarthy, and i was just calling him back. my wife, fortunately, knew her history and knew who eugene mccarthy was and turned into a very nice, accommodating person and worked with me to make sure i got to talk to him.
but at that point, she was not sure he wasn't a telemarketer and was ready to give him an earful. so sometimes you get to see some living history in your life. sometimes it gives you a good story. in this case, it gave me a great story. but the one that johnson fears more, and we've already talked about this in great detail, is robert kennedy. now robert kennedy had come to johnson and said to johnson, if you will appoint a blue-ribbon committee to study the causes of the vietnam war, i'll probably wait until '72 to run. but johnson sees right through it because what do you think kennedy does? who is he going to put on the blue ribbon -- this commission? are they going to be hawks? no. he tries to load it with doves. and johnson says we need to have complete independence. and johnson sees right through
it. you read about that. and johnson goes, no, that's just not the way it's going to work. and kennedy enters the race the next day. now the kennedy people were ecstatic about tet. remember there was the quote in there about one of his aides going, oh, the fig leaf has been torn off. tet just demonstrated this is a bankrupt policy. remember that? so they are happy this is weakening johnson because it's putting them in a better position, although people around kennedy are going, wait until 1972. johnson is still going to be a powerful force. in fact, the polls in march of 1968 still have him defeating kennedy and mccarthy. they were going to split the peace vote. and johnson also controlled the party. and that was what mattered in 1968. not your popularity contest to a large degree. it's who had control of the party apparatus. and johnson had it. but now kennedy is in. so all these things are
cascading. and the final thing that sort of is the nail in the coffin that will bring johnson around to questioning what to do next and completely moving away from the military solution occurs in late march of 1968. and that's when his wise men, these are distinguished diplomats, government officials, retired government officials, come to him and while in mid-1967 they said, we can see progress. when they hear the reports after tet, they go, mr. president, basically, it's over. we do not see a way out other than through negotiation. and i love that story i tell about dean acheson who is the head of the wise guys and acheson -- this classic figure with the little mustache. true northeastern liberal
elite. that johnson always tried to sort of, you know, cowtow to in some ways. but they have a private meeting before the wise men meeting. acheson walks into the meeting and johnson just goes off on a tangent. starts lamenting how everybody hates him and all because of vietnam. and do you remember what acheson did? he got up and walked out. ross dell follows him out. you remember? you tell that s.o.b., you know, i'm not going to be talked to like this. and ross had to basically kiss acheson's posterior to get him to meet again with the president. when the wise men flip, it's almost like the death knell of the policy. and on march 31st, 1968, it's a day that changed everything. it's one of the most momentous
days in american history. that will change the dynamic of the country, many would argue in a negative way, but definitely change the dynamic of the country. do you remember how it opened? what does he do first thing in the morning? eric? >> church service. >> right. what did he do before that, though? who did he meet? yes. >> his daughter. >> yes, which one? >> starts with an "l." >> that's good. linda. and what did linda -- where had she just come from? yes, the airport. derek, do you remember what she had been doing right before that? >> she was with her husband who was about to be sent out over to vietnam.
>>right. >> and she's pregnant. >> and she's pregnant. so her husband had just been left at camp pendleton. was heading to vietnam. so his son-in-law is on the way to vietnam. do you remember the question she asked? and why it was so poignant? why are we fighting for people that don't really seem interested in fighting for themselves? that's not the exact quote but that's the essence of it. how did ladybird say that affected the president? what was it like? >> that's good, though. you got down to the right part. the day that his mother died, that's the saddest she had seen him since that day. so the decision is throughout the day, didn't you love that going back and forth, where others are trying to persuade him to continue and run.
wasn't that fascinating, that whole day? but at 9:01, he finally makes his decision. i love that part. when did you make your decision, mr. president? speech started at 9:00 and he says at 9:01 i made my final decision. and the final decision is this. with america's -- the speech is only about vietnam and stopping the bombing to try to jump- start the negotiation. but he says with america's sons in the fields far away, i do not believe that i should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office. accordingly, i shall not seek, and i will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president, end quote. i talked to many people on this. and they know exactly where they were when they heard this. they looked at each other to
say, did i hear that right? nobody believed lyndon johnson was going to give up a chance to secure another term in office, did they? only a few people so close to him. and they weren't sure. and yet, here is one of the most powerful presidents in american history that has transformed the country for better and for worse, giving up power to search for peace. it's pretty big. major step. and it all relates to what? what's the issue? vietnam. he didn't say because of civil rights, did he? he didn't say because he was worried about the balanced budget. he said he was there -- it was vietnam. again, this period from january to the end of march of 1968 is one of the most intense and most important in u.s. history. because it's going to set the
country now down a different path. and that path is going to be about negotiation. negotiating our way out and really going full circle to what cronkite said. negotiating as an honorable people. and here are just some of the pictures. in the book, don't you love that picture of lucy sitting right behind him and just -- i don't have this one. she's right over here and you can tell she's in not good shape, right? she's on the couch. but they're watching on the three channels. that's all they had at the time. and the president is going to say about this, this was the most momentous decision, and it was the one where i do feel like i sacrificed for the country and its betterment. what do you think? do you think it's as monumental
as i tried to make it out to be? why? i see you have some thoughts. making the point over and over that he's acting for the rest of the year as a lame-duck president and his power is greatly diminished because he didn't seek re-election. that really stymies his ability to implement his agenda in a lot of ways. >> right. >> but he's putting all his energy now towards vietnam. that's what you have to keep in mind. now four days later, all hell breaks loose when martin luther king is assassinated and the whole country just blows up. you have, and this is why vietnam, it is central, but it is always being affected by things around it. and you got u.s. troops being sent in to all the major cities or many of the major cities to quell the revolt of people in those towns in relation to the assassination of king. so all the momentum he gains on
march 31st, and we know his public opinion polls flip from like 37% for to 67%, almost overnight. that's pretty monumental. but king's assassination just pulls the rug right out from under it. so the key is going to be the north vietnamese. now they got mauled in the tet offensive. mainly the vietcong got mauled. that is who really bore the brunt. and some make an argument that the north vietnamese did that on purpose to try to remove some of their political competitors in the south. i think there's some validity to that. because they don't get mauled nearly as bad as what the vietcong groups do. but by may, the north vietnamese do agree to at least meet to discuss the peace process. and here are just a few of the
pictures. now in the book, you read quite a bit about cyrus vance who was sort of president johnson's best troubleshooter. he's going to be our main representative. but there will be a whole series. what's an irony where they choose to meet? where did they choose to meet? >> paris. >> paris. why is that ironic? >> the north vietnamese had already led the effort in the first indo-china war against the french and defeated them. so they're sort of returning to the site of their victory in a sense. >> right. right. the french prime minister is the one that encourages them to come to paris. sort of a neutral place. but the optics of that. i don't think the johnson administration is thinking as much about the optics of it.
but you think about that. go to paris. you remember those frenchmen in 1954 that we defeated? let's go visit them again. also we still have significant ties to the french. you know, that was the colonial power for, you know, almost a century. but that is ironic in so many shapes and form. they don't go to geneva. that would have even been better, probably. replication of 1954. but we go to paris. now it doesn't go very well. because what are going to be some of the major sticking points, would you believe? i think there's a major one, right? who gets to come? what are the north -- who do the north vietnamese want that the south vietnamese don't want? who would be the obvious? vietcong. they don't want to recognize them, do they? some of you probably have
studied for your final paper project reading the tang memoir, a vietcong memoir. so they don't want them represented and the north vietnamese are like, we really don't want that puppet government in saigon represented. can you see some of the problems that could result? who gets to come to the table? and then they start arguing, what is the table going to look like? do we do a circular? a square? who is going to make that determination? basically here's what the north vietnamese are doing. this is lee duong chi minh's picture there but had been outmaneuvered by duong who was a southerner time and time again for the last two or three years. he pushed the tet offensive even though they're saying not a good idea. continue to try to wear them down. putting our forces out in the open just makes it easy for him. but he thought and believed
generally that the south vietnamese people were ready for the revolution. he's a hard-liner. and their negotiating tactic is this: fighting while talking, talking while fighting. what's that implying? fighting while talking, talking while fighting. yes? oh, i thought you were ready. okay, go. >> the guerrilla tactics and the fighting don't stop while the negotiations are going on. >> right. because what are you trying to do? >> you're trying to work out peace while the war is still happening. >> and you're trying to work it out where you'll have a better options and you'll have more territory. you'll have a better position. right? yeah. so don't stop fighting. keep the pressure on. and in may of 1968, they launch the mini-tet where once again they're in saigon.
they hit many of the provincial capitals. and there are some that argued after tet that the north vietnamese and the vietcong were finished. well, this certainly contradicts many elements of that argument because they launch another one within three months. now this is not nearly as violent, nearly as wide- reaching as the original tet offensive, but they definitely demonstrate to the united states what? and to the south vietnamese? are we still capable? we're going to talk while we fight, and fight while we talk. you see this playing out in these pictures of, you know, people running down the streets. and here's something that tet has demonstrated to people like walter cronkite. millions of people are now displaced. how do you run a government in the middle of a war? how do you create credibility? how do you create stability? millions of refugees.
many driven out of the countryside into the cities which means overpopulation. how are you building the economy? again, in the midst of a war. easy process? absolutely not. so this is a challenge. so what johnson has talked about for a while now is we've got to get those vietnamese boys to fight their own fight. and that's the way he would characterize it. we need them to do their own fighting. too many american boys are dying. my good texas accent for you. i was just at the lbj ranch last thursday and at the library on wednesday. so i can do it with the best of them. but, yeah, we need to get those boys over there fighting because all i really want to see is more dead nva. but here's the problem. and, eric, you made a very good
point on this. he's a lame duck. what pressure does he have to bear? especially on the south vietnamese who are looking and going, well, he's not going to be president in four months. yeah, his successor hubert humphrey might be because by july of '68 the other major competitor for the democratic nomination was assassinated. robert kennedy was killed in june. so they meet in honolulu, and here he is, johnson trying to give him the johnson treatment. cajoling, telling stories. trying to get him to take a bigger role. trying to get him to go to paris and really work out, hammer out peace that we can all be satisfied with. and ultimately tu emerges and said he had no apprehensions at all concerning
the u.s. commitment. he further asserted that his government was determined to, quote, to continue to assume all the responsibility that the scale of forces of south vietnam and their equipment will permit, end quote. think about that quote. to continue to assume all the responsibility that the scale of forces of south vietnam and their equipment will permit. what does that say? he still wants our supplies. he wants our support. is he making an open-ended commitment to getting the americans out? absolutely not. two presidents agreed that south vietnam should be a full participant playing a leading role in the discussions concerning the substance of the final settlement. full participant. how do the northerners see
that? didn't i just make the point? do they see them as a legitimate government? do they see them as a puppet? yeah. that's how they see it. that's maybe not the reality, but that's how they see it. the north vietnamese respond this way. the position of the united states remains infinitely obstinate in support of its puppet regime in saigon. does there appear to be a lot of common ground to build negotiations around? so what do you think would be the president's biggest bargaining chip? the bombings. making a good-faith effort to reduce the bombing. the bombing had had heavy effects on the north. it hadn't been proven as nearly
as effective as what many americans had hoped, but it was a negotiating tool. what else do we have? we're not occupying north vietnamese territory. the only other one is complete withdrawal, and they know that's not going to happen. so what are your options? and there's also the lame-duck president and the question of vietnam. and it is hanging over the head of vice president hubert humphrey humphrey. humphrey to the right here. he's trying to escape the orbit of the president. but at the same time is being pulled far to the other side by the peace faction. and what do you think his odds of being able to pull that off are? good, bad, not possible?
i would say relatively not possible. i love this quote. i pulled this one out purposefully. one observer noted for vice president humphrey, quote, nothing would bring the really peacenicks back to our side unless he urinated on the picture of johnson in times square. then they'd say, why didn't you do it before? can you win in that situation? now here's what johnson really pulls the rug out from under humphrey. do you remember in the lead-up to the democratic national convention, the committee -- the plank committee starts meeting and the major issue is vietnam. can't escape it. and humphrey works out and fashions a fairly moderate compromise, does he not? he gets the approval of moder
compromise, does he not? he gets the approval and what happens? die >> and what happens then? ] >> all hell breaks loose. i lifetime -- well, you're so young. in some of our lifetimes a more contested convention, that left the democrats hobbling coming out of the chicago convention. outside the convention, every hippie, every every antiwar group, every anarchist, person willing to stir tings up comes out of the woodwork. even if there is a group, they
went so far as to nominate a pegasus for the nomination so they could get secret service protection. to remember that? kidnapping. jerry rubin emma the whole crew stirred things up out in the streak -- streets. they didn't have to go far to see abuse stirred up. in no place to come more full force than it did on the floor of the democrats. remember ruben cough having a very passionate antiwar statement and who is down there screaming? do you remember? mayor daley. what is mayor daley calling him? i won't say this since it will be on tv. he was cursing him with anti- somatic remarks about that as
ob up there. it is playing out on national television. the next day, the picture stands out. we love mayor daley. on the other side, brutality does not pay. not in vietnam. nor in chicago. the press was being beat up and accosted. the sugar -- chicago police were using teargas. it looked like to a lot of people that the world was falling apart. especially for the democrats. at one point, humphrey was up in the hilton and they were on the lakefront. he is inhaling teargas. they're having to close the windows because the teargas was rising up from the street. johnson was down on the ranch. trying to make sure they don't compromise too much of the vietnam plank.
he also thinks what? it is so sad. >> he might give up on the other candidates, saying johnson, we will draft him anyway because he is my only hope, it got drawn out five minutes in. >> do you remember at some point they wanted to nominate johnson so they could put him out there on the floor and beat him down? it wasn't, wasn't that one of the saddest scenes? a sitting president waiting for them to call? his people around him, i think they are probably justified. they argued. he wouldn't accept the offer. but he wanted to be offered it, didn't he? it was his birthday. the day right before when all this was happening, it was his birthday. he is sitting down at the ranch, hoping they would call him. the even planned a show on lake
michigan. for his birthday. did the plane ever leave? humphrey came out wounded and the major reason is, vietnam. the arsenic swallowed by the johnson administration. let's carry again to the fall presidential campaign of 1968. i want you to look at this graph. very closely. tell me what you see. can you see it? the blue is humphrey, george wallace stays pretty steady. george wallace is running his own american independent party with curtis lemay and george wallace is crazy but lemay even embarrasses wallace. he is anti-civil rights. he wanted to blow it up and they wanted to help them. that is a gross
oversimplification but basically wallace is the inheritor of strom thurmond and the 9048 dixiecrat's. they're fighting off a lot of southern democrats. he holds pretty steady. what you see, the race in august, what does it look like? can you read that, can you read the graph? what did the democratic convention due to the humphrey numbers? did it help him? no. in august he was down 16 points. but what do you see happening? he is closing. by the time of the election, it is what they want for a finish point. nixon is out campaigning and i love this picture. because it sets up what i'm about to talk about. one of my signs is this one.
character is your qualification , some of you laughed, because you know what is coming. character is your qualification . that brings us to this part right up to the election. it is a matter of treason or not . many americans don't know what that was. but she died this week. her obituary was in the guardian, the new york times, she just passed away last week. so this woman was 94. but she was right in the middle of it. anna, the wife of claire, the flying tigers during world war ii, had come to the united states and become a prominent republican fundraiser. as the election was closing,
the nixon people were starting to panic. their raiders fear is this. it will be an october surprise. that surprise is going to help humphrey go over the top. six days before the election, he feels like it might occur. that is the johnson administration people in paris report back that the north vietnamese are willing to take further steps in the peace process. in return for a -- late october, 1968. again, these things have been playing out and humphrey is closing. nixon is starting to sweat bullets. as early as july 1968, nixon, actually a ghost back to 1966. nixon discussed alongside the south vietnamese ambassador the
issues related to south vietnam and the war. the apartment of one of nixon's aids, actually it was nixon's apartment in new york city. but as it starts to close, there are people inside the white house, including the guy to the right right here who was advising both the johnson administration and the nixon campaign, starts reporting back , they are closing in on the deal. what will happen one week before the election if a major piece advance is made. who is going to get that, nixon or humphrey? humphrey, no doubt. so again, they are starting to worry. the question is, what do we do now? less than one week elk -- out, what they started to do, they already did this to a certain degree, they start telling the
south the enemies government this. we will give you a better deal. sinnott starts communicating this to the president. how do we know that? you will say. one was because they had wiretaps the presidential palace in saigon. so the wiretapping was done of our own allies. when johnson heard of this, he placed wiretaps on madame chennault. in dc emma -- there's this wonderful thing at the johnson library called the x-files. i am not making that up. it is with all of the fai transcriptions of the conversations going on to madame chennault the ambassador and going back to south vietnam.
johnson has this information. he passes it off to humphrey. he says to use it as you see fit. but johnson hesitates to make it public. let's wait till you can get this why? >> two reasons. he wanted to appear above the election. second, he wanted to preserve the integrity of the presidential office. >> there is something ironic about that. but there is a third one. he wanted to appear nonpartisan. like he appeared in the 1960 election. is probably because he wasn't as strong and supportive humphrey as some wish he would have been. he was using this as a way to create distance. some disagree with that
assertion. but your point is well made. on your second point, here's the third point. he didn't want to have to tell people who his sources were. the president of the united states is using and nfa to spy on our allies in saigon. he is using the fbi to spy on u.s. citizens in the united states as well as our allies and the embassy. i think your point is very well made and he wanted to protect the legacy of the presidency. because he thought, what if i tell people this and he still winds? what does that create? immediately for nixon? a constitutional crisis, right? a potential constitutional crisis. does this sound early familiar? asking yourself this question, why didn't he pull the trigger? i mean, one of the greatest takes, go get this from the johnson library or from the miller center at the university
of virginia, nixon calling up johnson to deny he knew anything about it in early november of 1968. i chose this picture because i think it, i really love the one in the book. where they are in the elevator. and they are faced off. you can just sort of see and there is a story in there about johnson smiling because he knew he was lying. that he wouldn't pull the trigger. they had him get the rights. some people asked me, do i know for sure that nixon was party to this? absolutely not. we don't have that smoking gun. but i always joke, i safe i had to do a criminal case i probably couldn't wind because i would have to do it beyond a shadow of doubt. i would have to win all of the jurors. but i argued if i had to make it a civil case, with a civil majority, i could use the
circumstantial evidence, highly probable. do i believe strongly the campaign was involved. absolutely. they used a number of sources throughout in a south vietnam. the south vietnamese are going to brag when humphrey loses, we made sure the election went to nixon. that is important to keep in mind. there is no doubt that there were shenanigans going on. the johnson people did discuss making it public. they did discuss the logan act, which was 150 years old and prevented people from entering into negotiations already being conducted by the u.s. government's. private governments from doing so. it didn't matter. johnson didn't pull the trigger. where do they get this exile? the day that johnson left the white house, he told walt, take this file with all of the information and put it away. i don't want it released.
now, he obeyed that entered into the johnson library and put it in a safe, told the director of the library that he could not release it until 2025. 50 years after everything. fortunately for us, the librarian ignored the request and in 1991 released the file. it is so interesting to openness and see the fbi files. madame chennault was talking to somebody in the campaign who is in new mexico at one point. the only person in new mexico at the time was vice president spiro agnew. there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. the biggest irony of it all is the president worried about this bringing down the presidency. five years later, it did it to itself. and one of the reasons is he created an organization called the plumbers and one of the
first actions was breaking into the brookings institution to get documentation related to the chennault appearance. it did it anyways. i would argue probably that johnson, had he lived long enough to see watergate, would say this was one of his greatest regrets. not letting information out. he gave it to humphrey. humphrey chose not to use it. but what the difference could have been made at least for that three or four days before the election. one of the campaigns was actively involved, undermining the peace process in vietnam. collusion. all of the different things it could be. does any of this resonate? as did some of the other things on the book like the supreme court justices and the fight over civil rights, etc.
all of these things should resonate very closely. very loudly with you. by january 1968, again, johnson until his last days is hoping for a breakdown. he is also negotiating with the russians, which we made the point in the book, hoping there would be a breakthrough on arms control but then./you came along and 68 and killed that. but up until the last moment, he was hoping for a summit. but in some ways, it is pretty sad. again, when he was at the ranch during the convention, to me that just stands out. i don't even know, it was heartbreaking. even though he got exactly what he deserved. but we know january of 1969, johnson was standing there as richard nixon takes the oath of office. i want you to look at this next graph and tell me what you see. >> what does this tell us about 1968.
and the peace process and all the things related to vietnam. the obvious one, right? >> it was also the daedalus desk deadliest force. >> so many americans died, that does not count vietnamese civilians and others. look at the other number two it. how many died in 1959-1970, 71, 72. you don't have to give me the exact number. let's say 12,000+6000, was a 2000, plus another 2500, 20,500 , plus another 1000. almost as many people died in that period in the determination that the search of peace.
because nixon countermand what johnson sought to do. the sea continue to say we are going to win a victory? peace with honor. he had that secret plan. how did that secret plan workout for more than 20,000 americans? and millions of vietnamese, cambodians and laotian's. i think johnson, if you went back and asked him, had he lived past 1973, ironically he dies only a couple of days after richard nixon takes a second of office. let's conclude here. look at the picture to the right. to your left. what do you see? is that the same johnson in 1968?
again, i could take it back to that picture from july 1968 where he is listening to chuck robb. what you think destroyed him? vietnam. only a few days after, before this, he had gone to a conference at his library in austin. as he gets up, is a civil rights conference, as he gets up to give the address, the first thing he does is moves over very slowly. his health is deteriorating. look at the here. does he look like he has aged immensely in just a short period of time? he ambles over and the first thing he does when he gets to the platform is, he takes out a thing of nitroglycerin and puts it under his tongue. six weeks later he is dead. i like this cartoon. it is from the early 60s, 1966. i think it sums it up.
he had gallbladder surgery in 1965 or 66. he showed everybody his scar. the wound. don't do that. it is gross. but the cartoonist obviously made a point out of that, did they not? the scar is what? vietnam. i want to give you a final thought. as we stop. here is the question. why keep pushing forward? why let vietnam be that death nail? i think this is something that leaders have to address. i love this quote that he stressed about lbj. had never in his entire life learned to confess error. this quality merely amusing or exasperating in a private person resulted in a cosmic tragedy for the president.
he thought lbj had no alternative, defeating more and more draftees into the meat grinder of vietnam. that is your final thought to ponder. let's just say, what does this tell us about the turmoil of america? and the role of vietnam? thank you. >> you have been watching lectures in history, a weekly series on american history tv saturday night at eight and midnight on eastern here on c- span3. you can also find them on c- span.org's video library and they are available as a podcast. lectures in history on the vietnam war will continue in a moment with a course on u.s. policy in vietnam between 1955- 1975 go it is followed by a
class on the operation rolling thunder air campaign of the vietnam war. these are from our lectures in history series normally seen only on the weekends here on c- span3. we are extending our coverage this month while we are on break . if you missed any of this week's american history tv programs you can find them anytime online in the c-span video firstname.lastname@example.org. american history tv weekdays will continue until labor day on friday. the fight for civil rights in the u.s. from the zoot suit riots to the women's movement. we are spending next week on the presidency, monday we take you to visit museums on george washington, harry truman and gerald ford. tuesday, a former white house chef look that designers and stonemasons who have worked in the white house. then on wednesday, help residents and dealt with the media and press coverage. saturday, at 10 am eastern on c- span, live coverage of the
democratic national committee summer meeting in chicago. to decide on changes to the party's presidential nominating process. including the role of superdelegates, watch live saturday at 10 am eastern on c- span, c-span.org or listen with eight free c-span radio app. we have more now from our lectures in history series. san diego state university professor p are, teaches a class on the vietnam war, looking at the conflict from u.s. escalation in 1955 to the fall of saigon in 1975. he argues that the united states was in vietnam to prove the viability of capitalism and the american system of government. his closet about death his class is about one hour and 15 minutes. >> we talked about the lead up